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A Faithful Witness in Israel

Author
Category Articles
Date April 8, 2003

It is a strange thing for a non-Jewish, American Christian girl to grow up in Israel, and even stranger for her to melt so well into the fabric of Israeli society

by Baruch Maoz

Samuel stood on the small platform before the one thousand or so who gathered on a sunny, breezy noon. He was dressed in a stylish, black suit and a black-and-yellow tie. Obviously, he did not have much experience in such events and was somewhat ill at ease. “Before we begin, please turn off all mobile telephones”, he began with a note of authority, and then added somewhat plaintively, “OK?” As the event unfolded, Samuel rose to the occasion. He is a young man, in his early thirties.

Abigail Lytle was a few months past her 14th birthday. She went to school on central Carmel in Haifa and was much loved by her schoolmates and her peers for her infectious smile, her positive attitude to life and her infectious good will toward others. Later, the Principal of Abigail’s school would bear witness to her studiousness, her good discipline, and to her gracious and polite manner.

It is a strange thing for a non-Jewish, American Christian girl to grow up in Israel, and even stranger for her to melt so well into the fabric of Israeli society. Abigail’s parents were missionaries, working in Israel.

On Wednesday, March 5th, Abigail was on her way home from school on a warm afternoon. It had been a good day. Coffee houses were abuzz with people, stores were busy and the weather promising to be pleasant for some time. After over a week of heavy rain, this was a welcome respite. Abigail climbed onto her bus. In less than 10 minutes, she would be home, with her three brothers, sister and parents.

A young man clambered onto the bus, paid the driver and began making his way toward the inner part of the bus. He slipped his hand into his pocket, pulled a trigger – and the bus exploded. People a mile or more away, began to weep. The sound was all too familiar. Fifteen died at once, with scores wounded on the bus and in the area. Abigail Lytle was one of the dead.

It was now Sunday, March 9th. The funeral had been delayed so that Abigail’s grandparents and other members of the family could fly in from America. Thousands now gathered from all over the country: many members of the Jewish Christian congregations who came to pay their respects and share the pain of a fellow-suffering family; Government and municipal representatives, Abigail’s teachers and class mates, and many others.

Samuel led the service. He spoke faith in a God who never errs and whose love is sure. He spoke of the hope of the resurrection. Christian songs in Hebrew rang through the air as the American and Israeli flags, draping the little coffin, were removed, folded and handed to the Mother, Heidi Lytle. Abigail’s body was laid to rest. Phillip spoke of his confidence in God and Abigail’s grandfather spoke, primarily to Phillip and Heidi Lytle, offering them the comfort of shared grief and the truths of the Gospel.

God was glorified in that funeral because the family chose not to wallow in the mire of their terrible pain, but to lay the whole weight of their sorrow on him who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me will never die.” Like Abigail, they believed.

Senior Knesset Member, and Chairman of its most prestigious Committee, that of Foreign and Security Affairs – Yuval Stenitz, represented the Government. He commented that he had witnessed this day more than the power of religion. He had seen the vigor of faith. A TV reporter, hardened after having been assigned to many a funeral (and Israel has many such these days) confessed that he was deeply moved, even to tears, by what he had seen. A week later, the Haifa municipality was still astir as officials spoke of the amazing funeral. Unlike the darkness of despair that characterizes a usual Jewish funeral, this funeral expressed faith, hope, even joy in the midst of sorrow. The sense of communal affection was also outstandingly uncommon to the average Israeli mind.

Samuel omitted to mention a significant fact: he is an Arab, pastoring a predominantly Jewish congregation, burying an American Baptist child who was murdered because some people have lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong as they vie for their national interests.

Baruch Maoz

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